We are still getting used to the Eastern Conference post-LeBron James era.
The Miami Heat and Boston Celtics represent organizations that work on the sum-of-all-parts model, as opposed to, the team-up-superstars model. There’s nothing wrong with either one. It shows the diversity of ways organizations can build a successful team.
The Celtics are 9th in playoff scoring but they’ve shown that defense can still rule the day. The Celtics have three (Jayson Tatum, Marcus Smart, and Kemba Walker) of the top four players in Defensive Win Shares and they’re first in Playoff Defensive Rating. That is getting lost in a league that tends to judge players and teams based on their offense. Boston has been strong without Gordon Hayward. If/When Hayward returns, head coach Brad Stevens can bring him off the bench if he chooses to. There’s no need to force him back in the starting lineup.
Miami has done it in a different way. The Heat has depended heavily on their three-point shooting. They are third in three-point playoff percentage. While they certainly love the three-point shot, the Heat have gone to the free throw line more than any other team left in the playoff. Only the Philadelphia 76ers went to the free throw line more in the playoffs.
Pat Riley and the Heat have taken six years to get back to this point post LeBron James. Bam Adebayo, Tyler Herro, and Duncan Robinson have been hits for Riley. He also hit with the acquisition of Jimmy Butler, Jae Crowder, and Goran Dragic.
The series will come down to how well the Celtics perimeter defenders can defend the Heat back court and wing players. Marcus Smart will have to be able to take away Tyler Herro, Duncan Robinson, and any other Heat perimeter players Stevens puts him on.
If the Celtics can keep the Heat off the free throw line, they’ll win the series.
Prediction: Boston Celtics in 7